Hundreds of manufacturing jobs have been lost in the past seven months in Union County, an official said.

“Over 600 manufacturing jobs have been lost in Union County over the last seven months,” said Gary Chandler, director of industrial development with the Three Rivers Planning & Development District. "These closures are permanent."

Chandler added, "That’s really unfortunate for our community. We’re certainly sympathetic with those who have been adversely affected by the job losses.”

Union County Board of Supervisors President Randy Owen said the loss of the jobs is “devastating news.”

“The only good thing is they’re getting some stimulus money right now and unemployment from the state and the federal, but that’s not going to last forever,” Owen said.

He said Chandler and the economic development team are working to recruit more industries to the area.

“We’re hoping to find somebody to fill the buildings and create some more new jobs,” said Owen. “Maybe somebody will move here quickly, which would be a good thing.”

Master-Bilt is the most recent manufacturer in Union County that has announced it is closing permanently. Losing Master-Bilt was a “really big shock,” said Owen.

“That plant’s been there for as long as I can remember,” Owen said. “It’s very bad news for people in the county.”

Prior to that, it was announced that VIP Cinema Seating in New Albany was shutting down for good.

And last fall Emerald Home Furnishings in New Albany closed, Chandler noted.

As far as the Master-Bilt closure that was recently announced, Chandler said, “it’s unfortunate anytime you have a longtime manufacturer who decides to shut their doors.”

But the loss of so many jobs means there is a readily available workforce in Union County, Chandler noted. Having that workforce available could help when it comes to recruiting other manufacturers to the community, he said.

“What that arms us with is a readily available workforce for new manufacturers who are seeking to come in . . .” Chandler said. "We're hopeful that puts us in a position to create new jobs and hopefully better jobs for those that have been adversely affected."

Union County has had a tight labor market the past several years with one of the top five lowest unemployment rates in the state, Chandler noted.

“It’s not that way anymore,” he said.

Chandler said it is the goal of the Three Rivers Planning & Development District to sell the community and get those people back to work as quickly as possible.

A 100,000 square foot shell building is currently under construction in Union County with the hopes of attracting an industry.

The shell building should be complete around July or August, said Chandler. The building is expandable up to 400,000 square feet and has high ceilings, he added.

“The interest in the building has been steady even through the pandemic," Chandler said. "This type of building puts us in a different category in terms of the projects we would be able to compete for.”

But the coronavirus has slowed the economy down, Owen noted. He thinks the situation will improve when the coronavirus dies down.

The shell building is being constructed by Enhance Mississippi, which is a private investor group made up of five banks, the Three Rivers Planning and Development District and a handful of citizens. It is being built in the Martintown SOUTH Industrial Park directly south of Diversity Vuteq.

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